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three pairs of lovers with space



The following story, originally called “Aloeswood Boy of the East”, is from Ihara Saikaku’s Nanshoku Ōkagami 男色大鑑 (Great Mirror of Male Love), a collection of forty short stories of Greek love published in 1687.

The slightly shortened translation presented here is the first into English and was made by E. Powys Mathers from the French translation of Ken Sato. Mathers published it as “The Soul of a Young Man smitten with Love follows his Lover on a Journey” in pp.  35-40 of Comrade Loves of the Samurai, the first section of volume seven of his Eastern Love (London, 1928).

The story is set in the castle town of Sendai, and in the mid-1670s, as can be deduced from the reference to the Edo boy actor Dekijima, who flourished at that time.

It should be noted that Saikaku used the traditional Japanese method of counting age, according to which a person is born aged one, and goes up one each subsequent New Year. Thus between one and two years needs to be taken off to find the modern English equivalent. Thus, for example, Jutaro was, in modern English, 11 or 12, not 13, when he wrote the love story mentioned.

The Soul of a Young Man smitten with Love follows his Lover on a Journey

IN A SPRING MEADOW studded with graceful flowers and fresh grasses were two richly and elegantly clothed persons gathering spring flowers. Their faces were shaded by large hats.

A young man stood watching these two graceful silhouettes. He could not see their faces, and was curious to know what beautiful boys they might be. He had great longing to see their delightful faces. Then an old servant woman came out of the tent, and called to them :

Sendai by Haui Kawase

‘Dear maidens, dear Ofuji and Oyoshi.’ The young man was disappointed to find that the two graceful persons were women and not young men. He went swiftly to the town of Sendai, the capital of that Province.

At the end of one of the streets of this town, called Bashyoja Fsuojji, there was a druggist’s shop, the owner of which was a certain Hiusuke Ronishi. As our young man passed the shop, a delicious scent of incense escaped from the black curtains at the back of it, separating the commercial part from the living-rooms. The perfume was sweeter than that famous White Chrysanthemum incense which only the Lord of the Province possessed. The young man had a keen taste in incense, and was attracted by the perfume.

So he entered the shop and, after buying some common perfumes, said to the proprietor: ‘I should like to buy that incense which you are now burning behind the shop. Its perfume is exquisite. Will you give me a little?’ But the proprietor answered: ‘That incense is my son’s favourite, and we cannot sell it.’

The young man was cast down, and lingered for a moment in the shop; for he could not tear himself from the delicious odour; and it was with regret that he withdrew. His name was Itjikuro Ban, and he was a Guard[1] of the Province of Tsugaru, and immensely rich. He was passionately addicted to pederasty and did not waste a thought on women. He was at that particular time going to Yedo to see a celebrated young actor named Dekijima,[2] whose beauty was attracting many men’s admiration. His servant had received a letter from a friend at Yedo, praising Dekijima’s beauty, and Itjikuro had at once set out to see him. He was a person of great refinement and dignity, of a rank which is seldom met with in so distant a country. Jutaro, the druggist’s son, had seen Itjikuro and fallen in love with him. He thought:

‘My fair youth cannot last for ever, and I shall soon be a grown man. Many men love and admire me for my beauty, and I have received more than a hundred love letters; but I have not read a single one of them. People say that I have no heart. But none of these men had any allure for me. Only this elegant male has troubled me. If he could but return my love, I should love him all my life long. In truth I love him desperately. His manly beauty has made me lose my head. He has fascinated me.’  His too ardent and youthful blood so inflamed him that his passion threw him to the ground. His eyes became set, and he seemed like a madman. He rushed about, holding his long-cherished spaniel in his right hand, while he brandished a sword with the other. No one could go near him. At last, at the risk of her own life, his nurse managed to seize him. She consoled and cheered him: ‘My dear young master, calm yourself! We can recall this traveller and arrange your love. I beg you to take command of yourself, dear master.’ The young man then became a little calmer. His parents engaged a travelling priest to pray for his recovery.

Jutaro's parents at the Tenjin Shrine: woodblock illustration accompanying the original text

Hiusuke, the young man’s father, had, when thirty-five years of age, married a rich merchant’s daughter; but he had reached the age of sixty without having a child. Then he and his wife prayed Tenjin to grant them a child, and remained in prayer for seven days before the shrine of the god. On the evening of the seventh day they dreamed that a blossom fell from a plum tree into the wife’s mouth, and that she became with child. They were very happy and grateful to the god Tenjin. Then Jutaro was born.

He was hardly five years old when he began to write Chinese letters without ever having learned them. At thirteen he wrote a story about a meeting between two young lovers who had to separate after a short time on a summer evening. He called the book: The Love of a Short Summer Evening.[3] Such was his genius.

Therefore his sudden illness caused great sorrow to his parents and friends. The priest’s prayer had no great effect. Jutaro was in a continuous delirium, and grew weaker every day. His pulse became so faint that all hope of saving him was lost. His parents wove a fair white shroud and made ready a beautiful coffin for his burial ; for they expected his death at any moment.

But one day, suddenly, the young man raised his weary head and said in a weak voice to his relations: ‘I am happy, for this man whom I love will pass along the street tomorrow evening. Stop him, and bring him to me.’

Those who heard him thought that he was speaking in his delirium; but to appease him they sent a man named Biwajutji to wait for the stranger at the town gate. And lo! as the sick man had said, the stranger arrived. They brought him to Hiusuke’s house, and the father, overcome with emotion, told him of his son’s strange illness.

Itjikuro was touched by this love, and said to the father: ‘If your son dies, I shall become a priest, that I may pray all my life for the safety of his soul. But I wish to see him before he dies. I should like to say good-bye to him before he leaves this world.’

They entered the young man’s room, and the weakened Jutaro at once sat upright on his bed, as soon as he saw him whom he loved. And he recovered immediately, and became as well as he had been before. Everybody was astonished at this thing.

Illustration accompanying Mathers' English text

Jutaro said to Itjikuro: ‘My body remained here, but my soul has been with you all the time. Perhaps you have not been aware of it. Lord, I love you. One night when you had gone into the inner room at Hiraizumi, after having visited the historic places of Takadatji, my soul slept with you in the same bed and loved you without speaking a word. Then I placed a little of my special incense in your sleeve. Have you it still? ’

Itjikuro took a piece of incense from his pocket and said: ‘This is indeed strange. I was glad to find this exquisite incense in my sleeve, but I could not explain whence it had come. Now I understand, and it is a miracle. I did not know that we had made a contract of love together.’ The young boy replied: ‘I wish to give you a proof of that contract: which will make you believe me.’ He took a broken piece of incensefrom his pocket and, putting the two pieces together, showed that they fitted exactly; also their perfume was the same. Itjikuro was then convinced, and they swore to love each other always, even in future existence. Itjikuro returned to his birth town, taking Jutaro on his horse, and the young boy’s relations gladly agreed to give him to his lover.


[1] A mistranslation: actually, he was a merchant.

[2] His full names are given in the original as “Dekijima Koza”. He “is mentioned in Shin yarō hanagaki (1674) as possessing ‘peony-like beauty, unsurpassed acting skill, and a bright, pleasant voice,’ but he left the stage in 1677 because he grew too big to attract patrons.” (Footnote 5 to G. Shalow’s translation of this story in The Great Mirror of Male Love, Stanford, 1990.)

[3] “The title is a parody of Aki no yo no nagamonogatari (Long tale for an autumn night), a fourteenth-century tale about a priest’s love for his temple acolyte and the religious awakening it produced. See Childs, ‘Chigo monogatari: Love Stories or Buddhist Sermons.’ “ (Footnote 6 to G. Shalow’s translation of this story in The Great Mirror of Male Love, Stanford, 1990.)




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